B2B businesses are underestimating customer service and must learn from the B2C approach, according to research by Claranet

The continuing consumerisation of business customers has fundamentally shifted organisational buying behaviour – now the B2B market must acclimatise.

The pervasiveness of technology in everyday life means that people have come to take for granted the convenience of mobile, e-commerce, instant access to information, products and services, and the ability to offer feedback through social media. Their expectations around how to find, research and buy what they want have been moulded by these digital experiences, and as they enter the workforce, they take these expectations with them. New research from managed services provider Claranet, however, has found that B2B organisations could do a lot more to ensure a high level of customer service by improving their digital experiences. To be successful, they need to act more like B2C businesses in the way that they interact with their customers.

The research, which was conducted by Vanson Bourne who surveyed 750 IT decision-makers for Claranet's Beyond Digital Transformation research report, has shed light on this recent shift in attention towards the customer experience amongst B2B and B2C businesses, and it is clear that B2Bs have significant work to do if they are to catch up.

According to the findings, 49 per cent of B2B businesses broadly recognise that a stronger focus on customers' digital experiences could deliver greater competitive advantage, and 45 per cent believe it would bring enhanced levels of innovation. Despite this, B2C businesses are set to spend roughly 50 per cent more on improving the customer experience than their counterparts in the B2B world, and B2Cs are twice as likely to report that improving the customer experience was a top priority for their IT departments than B2Bs.

Commenting on the findings, Michel Robert, Claranet’s UK Managing Director, said:

Customers' digital experience is likely to get still more important in the B2B world, with new, disruptive and customer-focused businesses entering the fray all the time. With this in mind, B2B businesses can't afford to be complacent. The key is to find ways to serve customers more effectively via digital technology – whether that is providing a new way of buying products through e-commerce, creating more convenience for the customer through mobile applications, or innovating with completely new approaches. At the same time, employees within the organisation need to be empowered to serve customers more effectively, through the provision of resources such as accessible mobile applications and collaboration tools."

To address these shortcomings, businesses are set to ramp up their investments in improving the customer user experience. According to the findings, the amount of money spent on the customer experience by businesses is set to increase by almost two-thirds (63 per cent) over the next three years, when compared to the last three. This is an encouraging sign, but organisations need to find a way of addressing customer needs that is both reliable and effective, yet does not leave already stretched IT departments with too much on their hands.

It's not surprising that customer experience ranks low for IT departments in B2B businesses, as IT departments at any type of organisation already spend a significant amount of their time keeping the lights on and the wheels turning. IT teams need more freedom to focus on what they can do to contribute more heavily towards the organisation's wider pursuit of excellent customer service, and this is where working with a third party provider can make a difference, by assisting with these management and maintenance tasks."

Convenience, instant service, intuitive design and easy access to products from a variety of touch-points are all essential features for B2B companies to match customer expectations. Teams throughout the business also need to be given the means with which they can carry out their job of serving customers more effectively. In short, all companies need to develop their capability to transform their operations, marketing, products and services to make them fit for competition in the digital age. This emphasises the need to have the right kind of IT infrastructure in place to deliver stable performance and connectivity on a 24/7 basis, and give IT departments more time to focus on meeting the needs of the wider business."